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Tanzania investigates allegedly false Covid-19 tests, suspends top laboratory officials2 minutes read

The government suspended the director and a senior official of the national laboratory responsible for coronavirus testing after President John Magufuli denounced irregularities at the facility.

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Tanzanian President Magufuli downplays fears over dam in conservation park
Tanzania President John Magufuli denounced irregularities at the facility testing Covid-19 results saying the outcome was tainted.

Tanzania on Monday formed a committee of nine experts to investigate the alleged false test results on Covid-19 that emanated from the country’s major public laboratory system, the health minister said.

The government also suspended the director and a senior official of the national laboratory responsible for coronavirus testing after President John Magufuli denounced irregularities at the facility.

Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu ordered the suspensions, a ministry statement said.

Magufuli, who has consistently downplayed the impact of the virus, said on Sunday that he had secretly had animals, fruits and vehicle oil tested at the laboratory. A papaya, a quail and a goat had been found to be positive, he said.

He cast doubt on the credibility of laboratory equipment and technicians and questioned official data on the epidemic, an AFP report said.

Magufuli called on authorities to investigate what he suspected is a “dirty game” in the laboratory.

“The equipment or people may be compromised and sometimes it can be sabotage…,” the president said in a Swahili speech broadcast live through state-run TBC.

Opposition lawmaker Zitto Kabwe, head of the Alliance for Change and Transparency, defended the laboratory director.

“Don’t get heartbroken by the way politics is interfering in technical issues,” he wrote on Twitter. “I trust you did your job professionally and you will remain one of the best scientists in Tanzania.”

The east African country, which announced its first case on March 16, had recorded 480 cases of the virus and 16 deaths at its last update on Wednesday. 

The opposition has accused the government of hiding information and failing to take the disease seriously.

Tanzania is one of a few countries in Africa that have not taken extensive measures against the virus.

Schools and universities have been shut but markets, bus stops and shops bustle as usual, with Magufuli urging citizens to continue working hard and not stop going to church or mosques.

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East Africa Politics News

Court sets Tanzanian opposition leader free despite being guilty for sedition

In a written order setting out conditions for Kabwe’s discharge, Magistrate Huruma Shaidi said Kabwe should commit no seditious offence for a period of one year, and if he did, he would be liable to be sentenced for the offence.

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Zitto Kabwe, local lawmaker and head of ACT Wazalendo party.

A Tanzanian opposition leader found guilty of sedition and incitement on accusations that he falsely said some 100 people were killed in clashes between herders and police in his home region in 2018 was on Friday set free by a Dar es Salaam court.

Zitto Kabwe, a local lawmaker and head of ACT Wazalendo party was set free on condition that he refrain from saying or writing anything that would be considered sedition to the government.

Kabwe, who is member of parliament for Kigoma urban constituency, in western Tanzania, was charged in November 2018 with three counts related to incitement after saying that 100 people were killed in clashes between herders and police in the region, a Reuters report said.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At the time, the head of police in Kigoma said just two herdsmen and two officers had died during an operation to stop pastoralists keeping livestock illegally on a government-owned ranch.

Huruma Shaidi, principal magistrate of Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s court in Dar es Salaam, said he found Kabwe guilty on all three counts.

In a written order setting out conditions for Kabwe’s discharge, Shaidi said Kabwe should commit no seditious offence for a period of one year, and if he did, he would be liable to be sentenced for the offence.

Kabwe’s defence lawyers said they were going to appeal the verdict.

“Zitto Kabwe is a politician and we are in the elections period, we are going to appeal this ruling to clear him,” Jebra Kambole, Kabwe’s lead counsel, told reporters outside the court.

Kabwe split away from the main opposition CHADEMA movement in 2015 and is now his party’s only lawmaker.

The East African country has been one of the continent’s most stable, but opposition leaders and rights groups have accused the government of cracking down on dissent – an accusation it dismisses.

Tanzania is expected to hold presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in October.

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UN warns of possible war crimes among Lendu in northeastern Congo

In the six months to April 2020, at least 296 people were killed, 151 wounded and 38 raped, including women and children, mostly by fighters linked to the CODECO rebel group, said a report by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO).

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UN Security Council delegation convoy passes in front of a refugee camp near Bunia, east of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 12 June 2003. United Nations sent a French leaded force to prevent fightings between Hema and Lendu populations and secure the area. Gianluigi GUERCIA (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP)

The United Nations has cautioned that the widespread and systematic killings, beheadings, rape and other barbaric acts by some militia mostly from the ethnic Lendu community in northeastern Congo may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In the six months to April 2020, at least 296 people were killed, 151 wounded and 38 raped, including women and children, mostly by fighters linked to the CODECO rebel group, said a report by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) on Wednesday.

CODECO’s fighters are drawn from the Lendu ethnic group.

Rich in natural resources including gold, diamonds, oil and coltan, the Ituri province in northeast Congo was the site of some of the country’s worst fighting between 1999 and 2007, after a power struggle between rebel groups descended into ethnic violence, mostly between the Hema and Lendu communities.

After years of relative calm, tit-for-tat fighting erupted again in Dec. 2017, reviving longstanding tensions over land.

The recent attacks against civilians not only targeted the Hema and Alur communities, but included communities previously spared, UNJRHO report said. The raids intensified from March this year, particularly around artisanal mining sites.

“The persistence of this violence is likely to push members of the communities targeted by the attacks, who have so far shown restraint, to form self-defence militias,” UNJRHO said.

“This could increase the likelihood of large-scale inter-communal violence in the region,” a Reuters new report stated.

Since June 2018, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, bringing the number of displaced people in Ituri province to more than 1.2 million, UNJRHO said. On March 25 CODECO’s leader Justin Ngudjolo was killed in an army ambush, leading to a power struggle and split within the group.

“There is a high risk that leaders with more radical positions will emerge and plunge the area into a more serious cycle of violence, with even more attacks against (the army) and civilians,” UNJRHO said in the report.

Murder of Chinese businessmen raise tensions in Zambia

Strong tensions have been rekindled in Zambia, over the brutal murder of three Chinese factory bosses in the country, allegedly killed by disgruntled employees over the weekend.

The local press reported the three victims, who were found dead in their burnt out factory, were killed by aggrieved employees of their textile business in Makeni, a suburb of the capital Lusaka.

Police spokeswoman Esther Katongo on Wednesday said investigations had so far led to the arrest of two suspects, reporting also that they had “retrieved the third body of the Chinese national murdered in Makeni.”

“As government we are saddened by the killing and it’s regrettable, it’s barbaric and I am certain that the police will be on top of things,” Foreign Minister Joseph Malanji told AFP. “This is anarchy.”

The killings come after a campaign by Lusaka Mayor Miles Sampa, to close Chinese-owned businesses, including barber shops and restaurants, after locals complained about discrimination.

The mayor has also targeted his crusade on a number of other Chinese businesses, lambasting them to use English and stop employing only Chinese nationals, saying “apartheid” ended a long time ago.

His altercations with the Chinese went viral on social media, prompting some government officials to denounce his action but he won accolades from many Zambians.

Sampa on Wednesday apologised to Chinese nationals in Zambia for his actions saying “I accept my error in judgement.”

Zambian rights activist Brebner Changala warned of further repercussions as workers did not feel protected from Chinese employers who “want to behave like they are the owners of the country.”

“The unions and the ministry of labour that are supposed to protect them are not and so they have to fend and defend themselves,” Changala told AFP.

According to a United Nations 2019 world population study, an estimated 80,000 Chinese nationals live in Zambia.

China is the largest foreign investor in the landlocked country, having built airports, roads, schools, factories and police stations, fomenting anti-Chinese sentiment with Zambia now heavily indebted to Beijing.

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Malawians escape isolation center after repatriation from South Africa

The 441 Malawians were bussed home on Monday from South Africa, where they were left stranded after the country closed its borders in March to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

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Deserted isolation centre in Blantyre, Malawi. Twiter/@zodiakonline

More than 400 people have escaped from a coronavirus quarantine centre in Malawi’s second largest city, Blantyre, after complaining about its poor state.

The 441 Malawians were bussed home on Monday from South Africa, where they were left stranded after the country closed its borders in March to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

More than a dozen were staying in an isolation centre after testing positive for the virus at the border.

The rest had been quarantined at a soccer stadium, where they were awaiting further test results.

“They have all gone home on their own,” district health officer Gift Kawaladzira told AFP.

“By then, 16 were positive already. Others were waiting for lab results,” he said. “If most of them have COVID-19, then we are facing very difficult times ahead.”

Kawaladzira said his team had mobilised other district offices to track down the escapees.

“The danger is that they will be hiding from authorities and hence cannot follow the set procedures for COVID-19 prevention,” he warned.

Doreen Lemani, who worked as a domestic cleaner in South Africa, said she returned home to Malawi fleeing tough economic conditions under the lockdown, only to be met by chaos in Blantyre.

“They did not provide us with food, and the toilets and showers here are in a horrible state. How did they expect us to stay here?” asked the woman, who was among those who left the stadium.

“We had wilfully offered ourselves to be tested, but this is chaos… Now they are telling us that they can’t find our test results,” the woman told a local TV station.

Malawi has recorded just 101 coronavirus cases so far, including four deaths.

South Africa by contrast has the highest number of infections of the continent, with more than 24,000 cases and 524 fatalities to date.

“I can guarantee you that the repatriation itself caused a lot of the people themselves to get sick,” warned Gama Bandawe, a virologist at the Malawi University of Science and Technology.

“Think about all the security personnel looking after these people, the escapees and the families of people. It’s a very big danger.”

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